Book of Love, 2022.
Directed by Analeine Cal y Mayor.
Starring Sam Claflin, Verónica Echegui, Antonia Clarke, Horacio García Rojas, Melissa Pino, Galya Vidal, Fernando Becerril, Ruy Gaytan, Horacio Villalobos, Lucy Punch, Flor Eduarda Gurrola, Daniela Luque, and Giovani Florido.
Young, uptight English writer Henry’s novel is a resolute failure. He is delighted to find out his book is a surprise hit in Mexico but when he is invited there to promote it, he soon discovers why: his Spanish translator Maria has rewritten his dull book as an erotic novel. Henry is furious, and even more so when his publisher insists he and Maria conduct a book tour across Mexico together. Opposites attract and the chemistry between the couple ensures sparks fly.
There is a refreshing concept at the center of Book of Love regarding the writing process that applies beyond novels. Director Analeine Cal y Mayor (co-writing alongside David Quantick) also realizes the importance of cultural and life experience (something felt in the setting here, especially from pleasantly utilizing subtitled dialogue) when adding verve and detail to any story. It’s a film that wants to celebrate creative and collaborative writing processes, but one that consistently undercuts itself by falling into romantic comedy clichés while questionably deciding to embrace becoming a riff on telenovelas.
Henry Cooper (Sam Claflin, in some genius casting against type) is an English author with a romance book struggling to find its way off store shelves. It’s likely because nothing of note happens in the story, and his views toward love lean prudish and sexless, which only flies in modern culture if you are a Marvel movie. The very idea that the handsome Sam Claflin of all people is playing someone with next to no experience when it comes to meaningful relationships (his back story amounts to one or two lines explaining why) is either stupid or crazily stupid enough to work. Considering it allows him to amusingly react shocked and repulsed at anything remotely sexual, I’m leaning towards the latter.
Out of the blue, Henry’s publisher Jen (Lucy Punch), requests a meeting where she is happy to break the news that his book (The Sensible Heart, a story about how love should be practical, which sounds like anti-romance) is a bestseller in Mexico. It’s immediately decided that he will set up some social media accounts (he has no experience with these either, making for a few lame jokes and unrealistically becoming a viral sensation) and fly to Mexico meeting with the book’s language translator Maria (a sweet and ambitious Verónica Echegui balancing dreams with crushing responsibility).
Something is off throughout this initial journey and before the first bit of promotional work. Henry is receiving sexual interactions on social media. His book’s Mexico cover has been repurposed into something suggesting eroticism, and Maria doesn’t seem eager to translate much of the book to the crowd. That’s because Maria took some extreme liberties, essentially rewriting anything that doubled as NyQuil, usually by adding steamy sexual passages. However, she also made character changes that genuinely improve the believability behind their motivations, boosting the benefits of men co-writing alongside women and vice versa. That’s also what should have been the engaging core of Book of Love, which quickly gets sidetracked into broad comedy, love triangles, and other clichés.
Instead, Book of Love is primarily about the promotional tour, for better and worse. It is appreciated that whenever the film tosses in something like a flat tire trope, the downtime is used to bond these characters more rather than comedic hijinks. Maria is also forced to bring her grandfather and son along for the tour since the disinterested and unsupportive father (Horacio Garcia Rojas) is worried about his upcoming musical tour. The tour itself amounts to tension between Henry and Maria, trying to keep up the façade for their best interest (advice given by the walking stereotype gay Mexico publisher) even though they have polar opposite opinions on what love is. Unsurprisingly, they learn from one another while becoming closer, absorbing the best of each other’s perspectives.
Any one of these threads is worthy of deeper exploration, but Book of Love is a shallow touch on them all. It’s more concerned with having the writing of Henry and Maria take on a life of its own to become its own telenovela, which again comes at the expense of too many other interesting ideas. Maybe someone will, ahem, translate this into a future better version someday.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com